Sometimes it is only long after the opportunity has passed that the thought occurs to ask someone what they meant by something they said. Sometimes comments are elusive in their meaning; sometimes they are misheard; sometimes the problem lies in only half listening to what is being said. If words have been spoken unguardedly, to return to them at a later date elicits only evasions or even denials. Apart from being bad pastoral care, losing the chance to really understand how someone felt about times past is a loss of a piece of oral history.
‘It was lucky nothing happened to my father he lived close to the captain’s house’.
The conversation had stepped back to the years between 1916 and 1921. ‘Was the captain burned out?’
‘No, they left him alone. They bided their time and wrecked his grave. The railings are broken; the stones cracked; and the weeds were allowed to grow over it’.
‘Is this in the cemetery up the road?’
‘It is, you can see the captain’s grave again now that the cemetery has been restored’.
‘I suppose it was their way of gaining revenge’, commented our companion.
He pondered the comment and the responded, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay’, saith the Lord’.
The conversation moved on to happier ground. Only hours later did what had been said become clear in the mind.
The discussion had been of a landowner, who had not been forced out. The smashing of the landowner’s gravestone had been described as an attempt at revenge. The expected response would have been a condemnation of a piece of vandalism, instead there was a verse of Scripture. He seemed to say that the problem lay not in the damage itself, but in the attitude that vengeance could lie in human hands.
It seemed a strange comment from a traditional conservative Protestant who would hold in contempt anyone responsible for lawlessness. Perhaps there are further questions that might be asked about the captain, but questions risk opening up seams of memories that bring an obvious pain. Silence and repressed memories are probably a better option than excavating a past that is long past being changed.